Tale of four brothers killed in war

The Revd Charles Henry James lost four sons in World War One

The Revd Charles Henry James lost four sons in World War One

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THE tragic story of a Wigan clergyman who lost all four of his sons in action during World War One has been remembered.

The Rev Charles James was serving at St David’s Haigh and Aspull during the years of the conflict and saw four of his offspring killed in the fighting, three of them in the space of four months.

George James lost his life while serving at Gallipoli in June 1915, while his brother Francis was killed on the same campaign that September and Charles also died in France just 10 days after that.

The James’s family tragedy was complete the following year when the only remaining son, Henry, was declared missing in action in September. He was confirmed dead in June 1917 and his grave located that December.

The family’s sacrifice is still remembered, with Rev James dedicating the baptistery of the church to his sons and placing two large memorial plaques on the walls.

The names of the four James brothers are also read out each year on Remembrance Sunday as part of the roll of honour which commemorates all the soldiers from the area who set off to fight and never returned.

Rev James arrived in Haigh as curate in 1876 and married Emily Donner six years later. He became vicar of Haigh, a position he would go on to hold for more than 40 years, in 1886.

The couple had five children, their eldest, daughter Madeleine, and their four sons, all of whom began to lay the foundations for successful professional careers in Edwardian Britain before they all rushed to sign up for the armed forces at the outbreak of war.

The eldest son, Charles, travelled extensively as a young man and spoke four different languages, working in Paris and Valencia before travelling to Brazil as a representative of a Manchester shipping firm.

He arrived back in England in September 1914 and joined the 13th Middlesex regiment, travelling to France with the Brigade Intelligence Department where he was killed on September 28 1915 at the age of 31.

His brother Francis was also a globetrotting young man, travelling to India where he became vice-principal of a school in Lucknow. He eventually rose to the rank of captain following service in Egypt and Gallipoli, and died of wounds in hospital on September 18 at the age of 29.

Henry trained as a solicitor and enlisted in the Middlesex Regiment where he eventually became a lance-sergeant. He was wounded in 1916 but returned to the front and soon after was reported missing. His death aged 28 was confirmed the following year.

The youngest brother George was just 22 when he lost his life in June 1915 in Gallipoli. An employee in the management department at Haigh and Aspull pits at the outbreak of war, he joined the 5th Manchester Territorials and was promoted to Lieutenant.

Some of his letters to his mother have also survived, reporting in March 1915: “The Turks fight hard but seem short of artillery, unless they are bluffing... Our chief trouble is with the snipers, who work their way right through our lines, and then amuse themselves with potting officers in the back.

“The brutes….dig themselves in to the neck, and paint their faces green, so we cannot find them.” Despite the horrors he witnessed in the brutal combat against the Turkish forces he also observed: “This country is exceptionally pretty and in some ways very like being close to the Yorkshire moors.”

Two plaques now adorn the baptistery walls in memory of the four James brothers, while they are also honoured in the stained glass designs. The dedication service for the baptistery in September 1916, held the day after Henry was reported missing in action, was attended by the Lord Bishop of Liverpool who praised the borough’s response to the call for volunteers to fight.

Rev James continued to serve at Haigh until the year the war ended, when he became rector at a church in Epperstone, Nottinghamshire. He died in Southwell in aged 91 in 1938.

The story of the brothers’ deaths is still well known to the St David’s congregation, with annual acts of remembrance of them and the other local soldiers who lost their lives in World War One.

The Rev Simon Pritchard said: “The names of all the soldiers who died are read out on Remembrance Sunday every single year, a tradition we think goes back to World War One.

“Everyone in the church community knows of the four brothers, and I believe it’s of paramount importance to continue to remember those who died.

“We still pray for our armed forces every Sunday, and we still have lads serving in Afghanistan now.”

Like many other churches across the borough St David’s is putting on special events to mark the centenary of the war’s outbreak, with a service of reflection and poems from the war years being held in partnership with other local churches and the Royal British Legion on November 2.

The names of the four brothers are read out each year on Remembrance Sunday